Saturday, February 16, 2008

The New York Times Gives EcoMoms The "Housewife" Treatment

I realized, as I clicked the link to read the New York Times article "For ‘EcoMoms,’ Saving Earth Begins at Home," that I would be dangerously close to the line.

You know, that line. The one we feminists are accused of all too often, but that sometimes actually applies.

"You're just reading it through a lens."

Right. Yes, sometimes feminists go too far, placing their own values on something without thinking of context.

But this article, about women who start conserving at home (you know, so we don't have to fight pollution overseas), is not a case of over-analysis. It's purely sexist.

Let's start at the beginning, where "housewives" are thrown back to the '50's:

The women gathered in the airy living room, wine poured and pleasantries exchanged. In no time, the conversation turned lively — not about the literary merits of Geraldine Brooks or Cormac McCarthy but the pitfalls of antibacterial hand sanitizers and how to retool the laundry using only cold water and biodegradable detergent during non-prime-time energy hours (after 7 p.m.).

Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived...Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.

Oh, isn't Patricia Leigh Brown whimsicle, assuming women gather strictly to talk about books and tupperware. Gasp! Can you believe these ladies are talking about something important? I'm shocked! (Brown gets NO credit for the mention of Cormac McCarthy, because his book was recently selected for Oprah's Book Club.)

The tone continues throughout the article:
Perhaps not since the days of “dishpan hands” has the household been so all-consuming.
More unnecessary assumption that women have nothing interesting to say, think about nothing but their house-life.

Re: the EcoMom movement:
Part “Hints from Heloise” and part political self-help group
What the hell is a political "self-help group"? Can't it just be a political group? Do women need self-help for politics now?

Also rampant in the article is the assumption that all these women have no other job. I'm fine if someone chooses not to work, but it's just not the case with the EcoMom Alliance (which is NOT linked to in the article). Robin Wright Penn is a member (who, I think is still an actress), and the group was started by a social entrepreneur who co-produced an event for the United Nations World Environment Day.

But the article's not all bad, there is a little of the idea that women are powerful in the changes they can make at home:
Women have been instrumental in the environmental movement from the start, including their involvement in campaigns a century ago to save the Palisades along the Hudson River and sequoias in California and, more recently, Lois Gibbs’s fight against toxic waste at Love Canal.

In public opinion surveys, women express significantly higher levels of environmental concern than men, said Riley Dunlap, a professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University.

And the EcoMom alliance itself pushes the history of women's meetings. Of course, it doesn't refer explicitly to Tupperware:
Much as kitchen table conversations have inspired women throughout history, the EcoMom Alliance is a call to action asking moms to help protect our planet and create a more peaceful, just world.
(from the website)
I'd say the tone is a little more about power, a little less about women gabbing about the best way to iron shirts. The tagline on the website: "Because one of nature's strongest forces is a network of mothers."Despite the brief mention of power, the NYT article ends on a sour note, noting the "domestic strife" eco-housewife-ism can cause and (natch) the cat-fighting within the movement:
And ecomotherhood is not always sisterly.

At the EcoMom party recently, some guests took the hostess, Liz Held, to task for her wall-to-wall carpeting (potential off-gassing), her painted walls (unhealthful volatile organic compounds) and the freshly cut flowers that she had set out for the occasion (not organic). Their problems with the S.U.V. in the driveway were self-explanatory.

The organization is about power, it's about concern for the environment. This article cut it down to coffee talk and internal strife.

NOT good, in my book.


Anonymous said...

Right on! I was also offended by the tone and language in this article. It reduces the EcoMom movement to another bunch of soccer moms with a new project to occupy their time.

Daisy said...

Great post!

It's always instructive to imagine how it would likely read if it was about the opposite sex... a bunch of DADS doing this? It would be all over CNN. They'd be hailing them as saints for getting involved and there would be lots of praise for taking responsibility and such. But women? Mothers? Just busybodies having coffee.

You nailed it, good work.